Beyond the Violence

Mindless rioting, people feeling the pain, understandable or intolerable… These are some of the words that have been used about the recent vandalism, violence and even murder on British streets these last few days. But is it mindless? Where is the ‘mind’ in all of this and what does the soul have to say?

One response is to say that ‘these people’ should be arrested, fined, even imprisoned. Most of us would probably take this view and this is understandable, but it could be a view that over-simplifies. Many have felt great anger at current world affairs, yet not acted. Others have acted in other more socially-acceptable ways – refusal to pay council tax, working to rule, protesting non-violently. Has a line been crossed – and if so who drew the line?

Another response is to ask why crime occurs at all. Was there bad parenting, or bad schooling or bad society/TV/internet that led the innocent astray? Are there even bad genes that predispose a person to violence – but does predisposition equal lack of blame? Where does moral responsibility lie – with the man, with the mould or with his maker? Poor things - was it their fault they behaved this way..?

Forensic psychology and psychiatry debate these issues frequently. Should those who commit crimes at times of mental duress be sent to prison or hospital? What counts as mental duress – frank illness like a psychosis, where the person does not know the nature of what they are doing, or does it also include things on a spectrum like depression, low self-esteem or even a bad up-bringing? In the criminal court, ‘intent’ is a key thing – did the person ‘mean’ to do what they did, and did they know what they were doing was wrong? This typically applies in psychosis, when the person can be sent to a secure hospital for treatment, but excludes most else – resulting in the person paying the price for the crime in prison, but ideally receiving some emotional help whilst inside.

Yet is this the right model? It could be argue that the person who was repeatedly beaten up by their father knows no other way but that of violence, and for them to lash-out is as inevitable and as beyond their control as a person with psychosis whose delusions cause them to harm others. Models of causality, such as the ‘cycle of abuse’ used in understanding paedophilic behaviour, can lead to all behaviour seen as ‘explicable’ and ‘understandable’. Yet this model is designed to prevent re-offending – allowing us to see that in helping paedophiles we need to raise their self-esteem not lower it. Lowering their self-esteem leads them to try to raise their self-esteem in other ways… ways we want to prevent. It was never designed to excuse behaviour or divert people from punishment.

Faith brings additional perspectives to this debate. It allows for the possibility of a moral line-drawer who is above the wishes of society. In the past, societies have sanctioned everything from stigma to genocide. These things are also logically consistent with an atheistic perspective, even if morally repugnant. They are not logically consistent with the teachings of Jesus, even if they have been done in His name. Faith allows us to make a distinction between mad, bad and sad [deranged, evil and reactive] in ways that a socio-psychological model does not.

Faith also allows the possibility of a new answer for low self-esteem. If paedophilic acts can raise self-esteem, then that is not the kind of positive mood I want. Esteem is best seen as ‘given’ and not ‘self-derived’ or ‘self-engineered’. Success may increase my mood, but what about when the gravy train ends? The given-esteem of Christ is the name of sonship, of adoption and of inheritance – things that will never end. Many testify to the effects this has on mood, ethics, behaviour, society and crime.


Further Reading - this excellent book from the Christian Medical Fellowship:

Mad, Bad or Sad - a Christian Approach to Antisocial Behaviour and Mental Disorder



Rob Waller, 10/08/2011
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